Imagine pods—7.5 feet in diameter with ergonomic chairs and shoulder belts—thrusting you up to 760 miles per hour through steel conduits from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 35 minutes, for the cost of a bus ticket. That is the vision of the Hyperloop, 700 miles of low-pressure tubes running up and down California.
The promise of a Hyperloop is speed; the virtue is how little energy it uses to move people and cargo. Estimates per passenger mile are 90 to 95 percent less than planes, trains, or cars.
Hyperloops are levitated by magnets powered by solar and wind power, with the only real friction being the residual amount of air in tubes. Linear-induction motors, the same kind used in airport shuttle systems, would be used to start and accelerate the passenger pod. A center rail with magnets on both sides would act as a stabilizer at high speed and an emergency braking system if needed.
There are now several companies in the world striving to create complete Hyperloop systems. Successful test runs have achieved 330 miles per hour in open air, but Hyperloop will have to overcome challenges from safety to infrastructure costs to permitting.
Technical summaries for each solution will be available May 1, 2017.